Love Island 2021: Everything you need to know as the reality-TV juggernaut returns

The feelgood series, with host Laura Whitmore, is back for the summer. Here’s what to expect

Love Island: Irish presenter Laura Whitmore is taking over full time from the late Caroline Flack as host of the show. Photograph: ITV

Love Island: Irish presenter Laura Whitmore is taking over full time from the late Caroline Flack as host of the show. Photograph: ITV

 

Love Island, the ratings juggernaut, returns to our screens this evening. The reality show, which wintered in South Africa in 2020, returns to its traditional summer slot this time around, liberated by looser coronavirus restrictions.

The series was hit in 2020 by the suicide of its long-time presenter, Caroline Flack, who had left the production several weeks earlier, after police charged her with assaulting her boyfriend. Flack had been the subject of vicious bullying and intimidation on social media. Two former contestants had also died by suicide, prompting concerns about Love Island’s responsibility to everybody involved in the show.

Such awful events aside, such is the anticipation this year that ITV, which makes the series, has reportedly netted about €14 million in revenue before the new season even airs, as advertisers have rushed to be involved. Ahead of tonight’s opening episode, here is everything you need to know.

What time does it start?

Love Island 2021 begins on Virgin Media One (and ITV2) on Monday at 9pm. It will air every day except Saturdays for the next eight weeks. The curtain-raiser is a bumper 95 minutes long; the remaining instalments clock in at an hour each. That means more than 48 hours of Love Island over the next two months. What a moment for humanity.

How does it work?

The show starts with 10 singletons in their 20s – five men and five women. The girls arrive first, then watch as the blokes troop in one by one. If a girl wants to “couple up” with the guy, she stands forward. If two women stand forward, then the man gets to chose.

It continues like this until everyone is paired off – so at the end there are usually two gooseberries who’ve coupled up because nobody else wanted them. Everyone lives in the same villa, and the “couples” each share a bed in a communal room. New singletons enter throughout the season, and at intervals couples have the opportunity to break it off and find a new partner. You have to stay in a couple to remain on the show. Victory is therefore determined by your ability to stay coupled up all the way though while avoid being voted off by viewers.

Who is taking over from Caroline Flack?

Laura Whitmore, the Irish TV presenter who stepped in for Flack for the January 2020 series, returns as host. She says she’s excited to be taking on the gig full time. And she has advice for the contestants. “Be yourself. Eight weeks is a long time. If you try and play a game, or try to be something you’re not, you’re going to get found out quite quickly.”

What about Covid?

You didn’t think a once-in-a-century public-health crisis was going to stop this hormone-happy juggernaut, did you? That isn’t to say coronavirus hasn’t affected the production. While the contestants and Whitmore are dallying in Majorca, most of the behind-the-scenes crew will be in the UK. Cast and presenters have been in a quarantine on the Balearic island since the middle of June. And they’ve had their own chaperones to ensure they keep their distance from other islanders.

Is there an Irish contestant?

Ireland has given Love Island such break-out stars as Yewande Biala and Maura Higgins. But apparently we’re too hot to handle this year, as there are no confirmed Irish participants (although there are rumours that two “surprise” islanders will be sprung on the villa several days in).

Which islanders should we look out for?

The line-up is the usual grab-bag of bloggers, models, people with boring day jobs in the civil service, and so on. History will be made, however, as the series welcomes its first contestant with a disability, Hugo Hammond, who was born with a clubfoot. He has played cricket for England’s physical-disability team.

What new lingo will be unleashed on viewers this year?

Love Island is notorious for inflicting infectious variants of the English language on viewers. Previous seasons have popularised phrases such as “pied off” (being brutally dumped), “grafting” (trying a little too hard to make a relationship work) and “the ick” (going off someone you used to fancy). So look out, lexicographers: spoken English may be about to suffer another pummelling.

Will Irish viewers be allowed to vote?

The audience plays a key part in Love Island, with contestants running a gauntlet of regular elimination votes. But viewers in the Republic won’t be able to contribute, as voting is limited to the UK.

How have producers responded to questions to do with contestants’ mental health?

Even before the appalling deaths of Caroline Flack, Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis – Gradon participated in Love Island in 2016, Thalassitis in 2017 – the series had been accused of not doing enough to prepare islanders for the media frenzy that awaited them when they left the programme.

Going into the 2021 series, ITV has announced new duty-of-care protocols drawn up by Dr Paul Litchfield, BT’s former chief medical officer who has been an adviser to the UK government, and a consultant chartered clinical psychologist, Dr Matthew Gould.

The guidelines include prefilming psychological and medical assessments by an independent doctor and a consultant psychologist, as well as reports from each islander’s own GP, to check medical history. And a minimum of eight therapy sessions is to be offered to each islander after the contest.

Will the annoying narrator be back?

Yes, the sarcastic Scottish comedian Iain Stirling – who is also Whitmore’s husband – returns. Although, to simplify quarantine requirements, he’s back in London this time around, where he’ll be doing his voiceover from a shed (a basement sound booth, in fact, but you get the idea).

How is RTÉ competing with this juggernaut?

It has pulled out the guns, with Crimecall airing on RTÉ One at 9.35pm today.

This article was amended on June 29th, 2021, to correct Iain Stirling’s location

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